PDM’s March in March: A Bargaining Chip
Mr. Fazlur Rehman of JUI purposefully designated as a leader of an un-natural coalition of divergent political parties named “Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)”, reiterated on 4th January 2022, that the PDM’s ‘Mehngai march’ on Islamabad will take place as scheduled on March 23 and will not be postponed due to the second phase of the LG polls in KP. The word “Mehngai or inflation” was inserted in place of ‘long’ after desperate search for a saleable cause to make the so called ‘Long March’ more appealing to the masses. PDM has gone through many amateurish ‘on’ and ‘off’ phases due inherent conflicting political aspirations, objectives, schemes and desired end state especially between PML (N) and PPP, with JUI(F) roped in as a crowed hoarder.
Historically, in 1934 the Communists suffered huge losses against the Nationalists in the Chinese Civil War. Faced with the prospect of annihilation the leaders of the Communist army chose to start what is now called the Long March. In the famous and successful Long March, Mao and his 100,000 followers fled to Guomindang and they trekked 6,000 miles while they faced daily attacks. Out of the 100,000 followers only 20,000 survived. The Long March was a symbol of Communist heroism and the march attracted many more followers to Mao.
In Pakistan, the long marches and sit-ins by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (currently in government) and Pakistan Awami Tehreek during August 2014 were not unprecedented. Islamabad had seen a number of political movements over the past six decades. The most famous marches were spearheaded by the late Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif when both were in opposition. The first major demonstration in the capital took place on July 4 and 5, 1980, when the Shia community marched on the capital to protest the enforcement of the Zakat and Ushr Ordinance by former president Ziaul Haq. It was then that the government gave in to the protesters’ demands and declared them exempt from paying Zakat to the state. Then, on Aug 17, 1989, during Benazir Bhutto’s first term as prime minister, opposition parties led by Nawaz Sharif surged towards the capital to observe the first death anniversary of Ziaul Haq at the Faisal Mosque.
A few years later, on November 16, 1992, Ms. Bhutto, then leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, announced a long march after declaring that the 1990 general elections were rigged. This movement forced the late Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who was president at the time, to dissolve the first Nawaz Sharif government, though it was reinstated on Supreme Court orders on May 26, 1993. The next year, on July 16, 1993, Ms. Bhutto marched on the capital again, which was completely sealed this time around. The situation was defused after the army chief, Gen Waheed Kakar, forced President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to resign. The lawyers’ movement for the restoration of the judiciary began when former military ruler Pervez Musharraf sacked chief justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry in March of 2007. After a brief restoration, Musharraf imposed a state of emergency in November of 2007 and sent the top judge packing for a second time. Judges were detained and made to retake their oaths, a move which few judges resisted. This prompted the second leg of lawyers’ protest, which culminated in a countrywide long march to the capital under the regime of the Pakistan People’s Party. Led by Nawaz Sharif, the march was called off in Gujranwala after then Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani made a late night speech announcing the reinstatement of the former chief justice and all the other judges of the superior judiciary; speculated to have been advised by the then Army Chief.
Another March and large sit-in witnessed in the capital was the demonstration by Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) chief Dr. Tahirul Qadri, who marched from Lahore to Islamabad on January 14, 2013, and camped out at Jinnah Avenue near D-Chowk for over four days. That sit-in ended after successful negotiations between the government of the day and the protesters.
In the recent history, the JUI (F)’s 13 days long sit-in at H-9 Islamabad peacefully ended on 14 November 2019 with announcement of ‘Azadi March’ as Plan B; after more than two years, perhaps the same is now trying to find some questionable traction with inclusion of poles apart PPP and PML (N).
In October 2021, banned Islamist group TLP, made a long March from Lahore to Islamabad, occupied Rawalpindi Murree road, causing administrative paralysis and enormous destruction of private and public properties, besides killings of law enforces that remains a black spot on the face of the country. Nevertheless, TLP abandoned its unreasonable pursuit after negotiation with the interior minister and his team of clerics.